Case Digest: People v. Rebotazo

G.R. No. 192913 : June 13, 2013

PEOPLE OF THE PHILIPPINES, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. JOEL REBOTAZO Y ALEJANDRIA, Accused-Appellant.

SERENO, C.J.:


FACTS:

On February 27, 2003, at around 3:00 in the afternoon, informant Orly Torremocha went to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) office in Dumaguete City to report that appellant was selling several sachets of shabu.

Based on this information, the NBI planned a buy-bust operation and formed a buy-bust team, which was composed of: (1) NBI Agent Miguel Dungog; (2) Atty. Dominador Cimafranca; (3) Louie Diaz; and (4) Torremocha. For lack of personnel, Diaz, son of the NBI Dumaguete chief, volunteered to be the poseur-buyer.

As planned, appellant and Torremocha passed by Shakeys on board a motorcycle. Diaz flagged them down, and Torremocha introduced him to appellant. After a brief conversation, Diaz told appellant that he was interested in buying shabu and handed to him the 300 marked money. In exchange, appellant handed to Diaz a plastic sachet containing white crystalline substance.

Upon completing the transaction, Diaz executed the pre-arranged signal by removing his cap. Dungog and Cimafranca then rushed to Diaz and appellants location and effected the latters arrest. Appellant was subjected to a body search, and, in the process, voluntarily informed the NBI agents that he had another sachet of shabu inside one of his socks. Dungog recovered the said sachet, as well as some money from appellant’s wallet, including the marked money given by Diaz. Dungong also marked the two (2) plastic sachets.

At the NBI office, Dungog conducted an inventory of the seized items in the presence of appellant, media representative Maricar Aranas, and a representative from the Department of Justice. The NBI Dumaguete Chief likewise prepared a letter request for laboratory examination of the seized substance. The specimen, tested positive for Methamphetamine Hydrochloride

Appellant also underwent a drug test, and tested positive for the presence of Methamphetamine Hydrochloride.

The accused claimed that on February 27, 2003, one Orly Torremocha let him ride on his motorcycle and they went around the city. He knew this Orly Torremocha as he was his schoolmate and has been his long time friend. After a while, they went to Shakeys at Rizal Boulevard as Torremocha invited the accused for snacks. While they waited for their order, this Torremocha was busy texting on his cell phone. After a while, a certain Louie Diaz came and handed money to Torremocha. The money was placed on the table. Torremocha then got a lighter and something that was lengthy which contained shabu. Torremocha gave half of it to Diaz who then left. After about three minutes, NBI Agents Dungog and Cimafranca rushed and pointed something to him. The NBI agents searched him but found nothing on him. The accused was arrested, but was not informed of his constitutional rights. The accused was brought to the NBI Office and was searched again. The agents did not recover anything from him as in the earlier search made on him. The accused was forced to sign a document known as Inventory of Dangerous Drugs dated February 20, 2003. The accused had no lawyer at that time. The accused complained to the inquest prosecutor that he was forced to sign a document without being explained as to what it was all about.

Two amended informations were filed against appellant for illegal possession and for illegal sale of shabu.

The case was raffled to the RTC of Dumaguete City, he pleaded not guilty. The two cases were then consolidated and jointly tried.

In its ruling, the RTC relied on the testimony of Louie Diaz, the poseur-buyer who narrated how the illegal sale took place, presented in court the evidence of thecorpus delicti, and positively identified appellant as the seller of theshabu.It also gave credence to the testimony of the two police officers, Police Inspector Josephine S. Llena and NBI Agent Miguel Dungong, who were both presumed to have acted regularly in the performance of their official functions, in the absence of clear and convincing proof to the contrary or that they are motivated by ill will.

In convicting appellant of the crimes charged, the CA affirmed the factual findings of the RTCon the premise that witnesses Diaz and Dungog had clearly and convincingly established his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The fact that the CA did not find any ill motive on the part of these witnesses to falsely implicate appellant only bolstered his conviction.

Moreover, the factual discrepancies pointed out by appellant referred only to minor and insignificant details, which, when viewed with the prosecution witnesses clear and straightforward testimonies, do not destroy the prosecution of the case.These discrepancies have in fact been clearly explained by the witnesses in their testimonies.

ISSUE: Whether or not the RTC and CA erred in finding the testimonial evidence of the prosecution witnesses sufficient to warrant appellant’s conviction for the crimes charged.

HELD: Court of Appeals decision is affirmed

POLITICAL LAW: fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine

The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine cannot apply in the face of a valid buy-bust operation.


Given the circumstances, appellant's arrest cannot be considered illegal. Time and again, we have ruled that the arrest of the accused in flagrante during a buy-bust operation is justified under Rule 113, Section 5(a) of the Rules of Court.From the very nature of a buy-bust operation, the absence of a warrant does not make the arrest illegal.

As we held in People v. Marcelino,the illegal drug seized was not the fruit of the poisonous tree, as the defense would have this Court to believe. The seizure made by the buy-bust team falls under a search incidental to a lawful arrest under Rule 126, Section 13 of the Rules of Court.Since the buy-bust operation was established as legitimate, it follows that the search was also valid, and a warrant was not needed to conduct it.

The prosecution of cases involving illegal drugs depends largely on the credibility of the police officers who conducted the buy-bust operation.Credence is usually given to prosecution witnesses who are police officers, for they are presumed to have performed their duties in a regular manner, unless there is evidence to the contrary. Failure to impute ill motive on the part of the police officers who conducted the buy-bust operation will only sustain the conviction of the accused.
Minor inconsistencies, when referring only to minor details and which are fully explained, do not destroy the prosecution's case.

Considering that the integrity of the seized drugs has been maintained, and that the drugs were immediately marked for proper identification, the absence of an elected official during the inventory-taking should not be deemed fatal to the prosecution's case.

WHEREFORE, the assailed decision of the Court of Appeals is hereby AFFIRMED.

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